Of the many things that the flashback episode of The Leftovers, “The Garveys At Their Best,” managed to do besides provide a few answers to some nagging questions was to deftly illustrate that the cracks in the lives of those left behind in Mapleton had already began to form before the departure (displayed with very little subtlety within the episode in the cracks on the wall and in the crack in Kevin’s coffee mug). The seams were already tearing in the lives of the Garveys, and in that of Nora Durst. The Sudden Departure merely hastened the collapse.
Thematically, the entire episode could be explained in Jill’s science fair project, where she was there (with an assist from Tom) to prove the science behind entropy, or the idea that nature tends from order to chaos. Nature had formed a circuit, and the sudden departure had broken it, just as it would ultimately break her family apart and extinguish the light when they lost the woman holding them together, Laurie.
But that circuit was already tenuously hanging. Kevin — unable to find the “greater purpose” that Patti would find in killing herself on behalf of The Guilty Remnant in last week’s episode — was sneaking smokes and banging random women. Like the deer he was trying to save, he felt trapped and he was destroying his family trying to break free. (That deer, by the way, was clearly a soul-relative to the deer that destroyed Kevin’s house earlier this season). Laurie already had a sense that her marriage was falling apart, which is why she hadn’t told her husband that she was pregnant, or that she was contemplating aborting the child (as soon as we knew that Laurie was seeing a doctor, I was reminded of the seminar in the Nora-centered episode about grieving over the loss of unborn babies and knew exactly where that subplot was going).
Meanwhile, Nora Durst was trying to get a job, not for the money, but for herself. Because she needed something beyond her identity as a wife and mother, because her life as a stay-at-home Mom was sapping away her will, and because she was increasingly frustrated with her husband, and annoyed with her kids. The episode wonderfully put into context why Nora felt so incredibly guilty after the sudden departure. Because, at the moment that they disappeared, she was basically wishing them away. That’s the kind of series of events that can lead a woman to hiring prostitutes to shoot at her while wearing a bulletproof vest. That’s why she didn’t want to let go of the pain — because she thought she deserved it. Now we clearly understand why.
Before The Leftovers wraps up its season (the finale is in two weeks, after a hiatus for Labor Day), it was important here to provide a before and after perspective. To let us understand that the problems in the lives of these people actually exacerbated their grief post-sudden departure. Because, in a way, they wanted to be rid of them. Kevin wanted to be rid of his marriage, Laurie wanted to be rid of the baby, Nora wanted to be rid of her family (at least at that moment), Patti wanted to be rid of her ex-husband, and those lovely elderly folks wanted to be rid of the kid with Down’s Syndrome.
Be careful what you wish for, huh?
Was that the reason they were taken in the sudden departure? It’s a theory to consider, and even if it weren’t the case, it’d be very difficult not to feel some guilt in their disappearance, to feel as though you’d unwillingly conspired with God or nature or entropy to disappear your loved ones from the face of the Earth.
— We now know who “Neil” is; he’s Patti’s abusive ex-husband. Patti stuck that bag of feces on his doorstep a few episodes back just as Laurie had suggested.
— Did the fact that Patti had a sense about the impending “end of the world” encourage Laurie to join her in the Guilty Remnant?
— Kevin’s story about the judge who won Mapleton’s Man of the Year the prior year was the corrupt judge, of whom was written about in the newspaper containing the wad of money Kevin Sr. left for Reverend Jamison.
— “Are you ready?” asked the random strangers who drove up to Kevin. I have no idea what that was about, other than simple foreshadowing. Plus the manhole cover landing a mere 10 feet from Kevin, I guess, was also foreshadowing?
— The three songs in the episode all hinted the coming Sudden Departure: “John the Rabbit” (the kids song Nora was listening to), “Without You,” (the song young Jill was listening to), and “The Girl from King Marie,” the song that Kevin was listening to on his jog.
— We know now who Kevin was banging during the Sudden Departure. When you add that his booty call ran over the deer into the equation, that “trapped deer” metaphor had layers!
— Gladys was a dog breeder prior to the Sudden Departure, and seemed so happy about it, too. The departure really did a number on her.
— I thought it was interesting that Reverend Matt — who had leukemia growing up — had gotten a clean bill of health right before the Departure, and that it was his wife, Mary, who was horrifically injured in the car accident during the departure. Now Matt, who had tried to shield her from the fear of his condition, now has to carry her fear, too.
— Now that The Leftovers has been renewed for a second season, it’ll be interesting to see how they handle it. Will they continue the stories of these characters, will they check in on new characters in Mapleton, or will they go into a completely different town?